Ruger New Model Blackhawk .327 Magnum Revolver
By the Guns and Shooting Online Staff
When we reviewed the 3" Ruger SP 101 in the then new .327 Federal Magnum caliber (see the Product Reviews page for that article), we found that it was too much cartridge for too little gun. The little SP 101 with the short barrel produced stinging recoil, a loud report and indifferent accuracy. It was definitely not a fun gun to shoot. We liked the concept of the .327 Magnum cartridge, but our suggestion to Ruger was to chamber it in a full size revolver, preferably a Super Single Six or New Model Blackhawk with fully adjustable sights and a long enough barrel to get full velocity from the .327 Magnum cartridge.
Lo and behold, Ruger took our advice and, for 2010, has chambered their New Model Blackhawk revolver for .327 Magnum. This attractive stainless steel revolver comes standard with rosewood grips, adjustable sights and a 5-1/2" barrel. In a departure for Ruger, the Blackhawk's big cylinder is bored with eight chambers. What we have here is an eight shot revolver and there is still plenty of steel around every chamber, a good thing since the SAAMI specifications for the .327 Magnum include a MAP in excess of 43,000 psi. This is not your grandfather's .32!
Noting the announcement of this new product, we immediately requested a sample for a full Guns and Shooting Online review. Our friends at Sturm, Ruger were kind enough to comply and you are now reading the result. Speaking of friends, the good old boys at ATK provided the ammunition for this review and ordered us a set of RCBS reloading dies in .327 Mag. Many thanks to the helpful people at Ruger and ATK who were kind enough to provide us with their American made products for this review. Readers, please support the many good companies and people in our industry, which definitely include Ruger and ATK.
Right out of its supplied plastic carrying case the New Model .327 Blackhawk impressed us with its build quality and smooth finish. The sights are blued and the rest of the revolver is satin polished stainless steel. Ruger is still supplying their Blackhawk revolvers with very heavy main springs, but this can be easily remedied by removing about three coils (we actually cut off four, but three would probably be sufficient), or ordering an aftermarket replacement spring. Ordinary side-cutters (diagonals) work fine for this simple hammer spring modification. File the cut-off end smooth and re-mount the spring over the hammer strut with the cut end of the spring down.
We are pleased to report that our test gun's out of the box trigger pull measured a clean four pounds on our RCBS scale. This is a good trigger pull by modern handgun standards. Of course, by simply prying one leg of the trigger return spring off its post (concealed under the grip panels), the trigger pull can be drastically reduced. Our Blackhawk's trigger measured a light 2-3/8 pounds after this simple procedure. The nice thing is that no actual modification of the revolver is involved and any time the owner wishes to restore the original (heavier) trigger pull, all he or she need do is hook the dangling arm of the trigger spring back over its post. Ruger, of course, does not officially approve of tampering with the mechanism of their revolvers and neither Sturm, Ruger nor Guns and Shooting Online accepts any responsibility for your actions. If you mess with the springs in your New Model Blackhawk, the results are entirely on your head.
Included with every New Model Blackhawk is an Owner's Manual larded with safety warnings. However, if you read past all the chaff, there is a useful section on how to disassemble the revolver and also a parts list and exploded diagram. This is definitely good information to have. The Manual also explains how to load, shoot and unload a Ruger New Model single action revolver, so if you just arrived from outer space or have been living in a cave with the Taliban for the last 150 years, you might want to read those sections, too.
Here are some specifications for the .327 New Model Blackhawk as tested:
By now, most shooters know that the .327 Federal Magnum is based on a lengthened version of the .32 H&R Magnum case. The .32 H&R Magnum is a useful cartridge in its own right; think of its use in a .327 Mag. revolver as analogous to shooting .38 Special +P ammo in a .357 Magnum revolver. The .32 H&R Magnum is based on a lengthened .32 Long case, which was in turn based on a .32 S&W case. That is why all of these cartridges can be used in any .327 Magnum revolver. However, the two shorter cartridges may not deliver top accuracy, as the bullet is making a long jump from case to forcing cone.
All of these rounds actually shoot .312" diameter bullets, so they are what a rifleman would call .303 caliber (or 7.7mm) cartridges. Many traditional revolver calibers are overstated, hence "32" bullets are actually .312, "38" bullets are actually .357, and "44" bullets are actually .429 inch diameter. Federal could have called their new cartridge the ".312 Magnum," but that would not invoke the power and romance of the earlier .357 Magnum, which by choosing a similar sounding nomenclature they obviously hoped to do.
Guns and Shooting Online Editor Gordon Landers informed us that, in addition to the four cartridges listed above, you could (unofficially) add the .32 ACP. This diminutive auto pistol cartridge is based on a semi-rimmed case with a base diameter of .337", identical to the .327 Mag. Gordon owns a .32 H&R Mag. revolver, which is where he discovered this bit of information. Ejection of the semi-rimmed case is, of course, no problem for a single action (SA) revolver, although it would defeat a double action revolver like the SP101. .32 ACP might come in handy as practice ammunition if your local sporting goods store is not well supplied with .32 revolver cartridges.
We have been fans of Ruger SA revolvers all of our adult lives. We think that they are the best modern design around and their strength and accuracy are legendary. It doesn't hurt that Ruger got their SA grip exactly right; at least it fits our hands better than any other handgun grip. It also handles recoil very well, at least for use in the field. With powerful loads, the revolver will tend to roll up in the hand. Once you learn to use the proper amount of grip tension, this is a good thing, as it dissipates recoil energy as it does so. The standard Ruger SA grip is a very good design for magnum hunting revolvers.
The New Model mechanism has been used in Ruger Blackhawk, Vaquero and Single Six revolvers for so long that it hardly needs description, so we will keep it as brief as possible. The revolver is loaded one cartridge at a time after a loading gate at the right rear of the frame has been swung open. Once the revolver is loaded and the loading gate closed, it is fired by manually cocking the hammer and pulling the trigger to fire each shot. After firing, spent cases are manually ejected one at a time through the open loading gate by the long, spring-loaded ejector rod located alongside the barrel. All of this is typical of SA revolver operation since the introduction of the Colt Peacemaker in 1873.
The Ruger New Model SA revolvers differ from traditional types by incorporating a transfer bar mechanism between the hammer and firing pin that renders them safe to carry with all chambers loaded. Unlike Colt and Remington pattern SA revolvers, it is NOT necessary to carry a New Model with an empty chamber under the hammer. There is no quarter-cock hammer safety notch that could be forced by a very strong blow in a New Model Ruger. In its lowered position the hammer rests directly against the frame and the transfer bar is withdrawn, rendering the gun completely safe from dropping or any external blow until the hammer is manually drawn back to the full cock position. Nor is there a half-cock hammer position that unlocks the cylinder for loading, as found in the Peacemaker design. The act of opening the New Model's loading gate lowers the cylinder bolt, allowing the cylinder to revolve freely for loading/unloading. The bottom line is that you shoot a New Model Blackhawk like any other SA revolver, but it is much safer to carry fully loaded.
Fully loaded in other Ruger SA revolver calibers (.17 HMR, .22 rimfire, .30 Carbine, .357 Mag., .41 Mag., .44 Mag. and .45 Colt) means six shots, but in the new .327 Blackhawk, it means eight shots. This increased capacity requires different timing and thus altered internal parts and more production expense for Ruger, so it took us by surprise. On the other hand, from the user's perspective, it means a SA revolver with the same or greater capacity as most single stack auto pistols. How cool is that!
In addition, the .327 Magnum cartridge offers a much flatter trajectory and hence longer effective range than any auto pistol cartridge. In fact, in its full power loading (100 grain bullet at 1500 fps) it is the flattest shooting handgun round offered by Federal Cartridge. Zeroed at 25 yards, that bullet drops only 4.5" at 100 yards, or about 1/2 inch less than a full house .357 or .44 Magnum bullet and only about half as much as most auto pistol bullets. For field use, it would make sense to zero the .327 Blackhawk at 100 yards (the midrange rise is only 1.7" at 50 yards).
Furthermore, the .327 Mag. hits hard. At the muzzle it delivers 500 ft. lbs. of energy (Federal's 180 grain and 230 grain .45 ACP bullets deliver 370 ft. lbs.) and at 100 yards it is still carrying 310 ft. lbs. of kinetic energy, which is the same as a 9x19mm/115 grain bullet delivers at 25 yards!
In a Blackhawk revolver the .327 Magnum cartridge is very controllable, more accurate and easily out ranges any auto pistol cartridge. Understand, we are not promoting the .327 Blackhawk as an ideal self-defense handgun and it is certainly too large for concealed carry. Quite the contrary, we consider it a hunting revolver. However, its potential as a home defense revolver is obvious and we would certainly not feel under gunned or defenseless if armed with one. Faced by two-legged predators in the great outdoors, we would rather be armed with this revolver than any service type, semi-automatic pistol, particularly if the bad guys had a rifle.
Getting back to reality, what Ruger has created in the .327 Magnum Blackhawk is a nifty revolver for hunting the largest CXP1 game and small predators, such as jackrabbits, coyotes and javelina. It is NOT a deer cartridge and we caution against its use as such. No small bore revolver (.32 caliber or less) is suitable for hunting CXP2 game. The .327 is a suitable understudy to .357, .41 or .44 Magnum Blackhawk or Super Blackhawk hunting revolvers. It operates the same way, shoots just as flat, kicks less and is cheaper to reload. For bouncing tin cans at 100 yards, it is unsurpassed.
Needless to say, we were anxious to get our new toy to the range for some shooting. The good old boys at ATK/Federal/Speer were kind enough to provide us with a supply of factory loaded ammunition. This included Federal Premium Low Recoil with an 85 grain Hydra-Shok JHP bullet at a MV of 1400 fps, Speer 115 grain Gold Dot JHP at 1380 fps, Speer 100 grain Gold Dot JHP at 1500 fps, American Eagle 85 grain jacketed soft point at 1400 fps and American Eagle 100 grain JSP at 1500 fps.
As usual, our shooting was done at the Izaak Walton range south of Eugene, Oregon. This is an outdoor facility with covered shooting benches and target stands at 25, 50, 100 and 200 yards. Our standard handgun testing range is 25 yards, shooting for record over Caldwell "sand" bags at 25 yard slow fire targets. The typical winter weather in Western Oregon is chilly and damp, but there was only a moderate amount of wind and judged not an issue for a centerfire pistol at 25 yards.
Guns and Shooting Online staff members Chuck Hawks, Rocky Hays and Bob Fleck participated in the shooting chores. Four shot groups (half a cylinder load) were fired for record from chambers loaded at random. All of the chambers in the revolver's eight shot cylinder were used. Here are the shooting results.
We fired some eight shot groups to check for group uniformity, which was good. Frankly, we were disappointed with our shooting results. Although the Blackhawk did reasonably well with the 85 grain bullets, we felt we should have done better. We have been reviewing so many rifles that it has been a long time since we did any handgun shooting and the results above reflect that. Chuck fired a couple of "control" groups with his 6" Colt Diamondback .22 revolver (a pistol that typically averages about 1.5" groups at 25 yards when Chuck does his part) and did no better with it than he had done with the .327 Blackhawk.
Then, too, the .327 Magnum is a new cartridge and we have noticed that it often takes a while for even the big ammunition manufacturers to achieve optimally accurate loads. We remember, for example, that when the .40 S&W was introduced, it initially had a reputation as being inferior to the established 9mm Luger and .45 ACP in accuracy. Now you don't hear much about the .40's lack of accuracy and current reviews with .40 pistols show accuracy results similar to pistols chambered for the older cartridges. We suspect that the same situation will apply when comparing the .327 Mag. to the .357 Mag. and .44 Mag. after the former has "matured" some.
In terms of operation and handling, the .327 Blackhawk performed like any other Blackhawk and with 100% reliability. It handles recoil very well and is easy to shoot. The grip fit everyone's hands. We have long felt that the Ruger Blackhawk has one of the best grip shapes on the market. All sorts of grip panels are available from aftermarket suppliers, so if you like your single action grip a little thicker, a little slimmer or a one-piece grip, it is easy to get exactly what you want. While we are mentioning the grip panels, the rosewood set supplied on our .327 had a better finish than past Blackhawk grips, with all grain filled and a semi-glossy surface.
When we reviewed a .327 Mag. SP101 in 2009, we were disconcerted by the little gun's very sharp recoil. The larger, heavier Blackhawk puts such complaints to rest. .327 Mag. recoil is no longer a problem. Unlike the SP101, the .327 Blackhawk is fun to shoot and much easier to shoot accurately. The Blackhawk is also easier and more fun to shoot than the .327 GP100 we reviewed in 2013. Of course, the Blackhawk's longer sight radius also helps.
Among the factory loads we had available for this review, the Federal Premium 85 grain Hydra-Shok and American Eagle 85 grain JSP had the least blast and kick, while the Speer 100 grain Gold Dot was noticeably more violent than the other loads. (Our universal first impression was that this load would really be a handful in an SP101.) The American Eagle 100 grain SP and Speer 115 grain JHP were somewhere between the two extremes. The Speer 100 grain Gold Dot load produced so much cylinder flash that it quickly cut about an inch long opening in our Caldwell rest bag, letting the filling run out. We repaired the gash with duct tape, but this is a serious load! Overall, we would rate the recoil of the .327 Magnum Blackhawk as somewhere between shooting a Blackhawk with .38 Special +P loads and a Blackhawk with .357 Magnum loads.
After all of our test shooting with five different factory loads we removed the cylinder and inspected the barrel. Both the cylinder and barrel remained essentially clean, with very little powder or other residue in either. Hurray for modest cases and jacketed bullets!
As applied to a Ruger Blackhawk, the .327 Magnum is the flattest shooting and most controllable of the centerfire magnum revolver cartridges. It is also the most fun to shoot and packs a lot of punch. What more could you ask for? Get yours while the supply lasts.
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